Tulsa County Prosecutors Say New Trend Is A drag On Justice System

Wednesday, May 23rd 2012, 7:55 pm
By: News On 6

Prosecutors say they are noticing a new trend. They say a lot of people are pleading guilty to their crimes, right in the middle of their trial, usually after the victim testified. They say this wastes time and money and puts victims through the wringer.

A blind plea is where you plead guilty to a crime and hope the judge gives you a better deal than the prosecutors offered you or a jury would.

What is so unusual about all these blind pleas lately is they're happening in the middle of trial.

Raphael Hamilton insisted he was innocent of murder and wanted a trial, so a year later a jury was chosen and the trial began.

Four witnesses had testified about the victim's 22 stab wounds, how Hamilton was arrested with the murder weapon in his pocket with the victim's blood on it. Hamilton then decided to stop the trial, plead guilty and let the judge decide his punishment.

"A blind plea is basically throwing yourself on the mercy of the court," explained Steve Kunsweiler with the Tulsa County DA's Office.

Richard Wooten went to trial for child pornography and after all the witnesses testified, he decided to make a blind plea.

Terrence Morris was on trial for robbery. He waited until after the victim and a police officer testified to admit his guilt, so he'd get sentenced by the judge rather than the jury.

Trejo Rodriguez claimed he was innocent and went to trial for lewd molestation. The 14-year-old victim and her 15-year-old cousin and an officer had testified when Rodriguez decided to change his plea to guilty.

The number of these blind pleas has jumped dramatically in the past few months.

"It's very frustrating for the victim's family, very frustrating for prosecutors," Kunsweiler said. "A lot of time and money and resources goes into prepping for trials."

This new strategy may be to hope the case falls apart or evidence doesn't come through, but when it does, the person decides they'll get a better deal with the judge than 12 of their peers.

It seems to be a dangerous and expensive game of chicken, where the defendant takes it as far as possible before calling it off.

"I'd hate to think we're playing games with the lives of people," Kunsweiler said.

Of course it's within anyone's rights to plead guilty at any point in the process right up to before the jury starts deliberating.